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Be Colic Aware!

Eleanor Storey BSc (Hons) BVM&S MRCVS, St David’s Equine Practice

Thankfully good management and awareness of colic risk factors keeps the amount of colic cases we see down to a minimum, but we do tend to get a flurry of cases around this time of year for various reasons. Cyathostomes (red worms) have a tendency to emerge at the end of winter after a period of hibernation, causing massive amounts of inflammation in the gut wall. This inflammation leads to pain and often a rise in body temperature resulting in a very sick horse requiring urgent medical attention.

Other predisposing factors of colic at this time of year include:

Sudden changes in management – less grazing and more hay without a chance for the gut to adjust).

Reduced water intake – as water becomes colder fussy horses can refuse to drink, this leads to ingesta becoming dry and more prone to impaction.

Increased straw intake – some horses turn to snacking on their beds if their turnout has been reduced, this can also lead to impaction.

Idiopathic (no cause identified). Occasionally, the cause of the colic is not known and just seems to be ‘bad luck’. The vast majority of cases respond to medication but for those that don’t there is often an underlying cause such as a tumour or historic but undetected damage to the gut wall. By dealing with all the other potential causes the chances of this happening are kept to a bare minimum.

Dealing with Colic – The Basic Facts

Signs which indicate colic:

Pawing at the ground

Kicking at belly with back legs

Looking around at their belly

Restlessness, repeatedly getting up and getting down


Not interested in food

The signs are very variable and each horse will behave differently. Usually, the sooner colic is noticed and treated, the more likely it is to respond to medical treatment. Some types of colic will appear very severe from the outset and these may require urgent surgical treatment.

What to do:

Remove food from the stable.

Call the vet.

Whilst waiting for the vet:

Mild cases may respond to walking but do not walk the horse if it looks like it may roll – put it in a stable.

Ensure the stable is well bedded.

Do not attempt to stop the horses from rolling – it will not increase the risk of gut twisting. The gut will twist spontaneously, whether it is rolling or not – the rolling is merely a reflection of the pain the horse is in.

If a stable is not available take the horse into a school or a paddock but ensure they are not able to get caught in fencing if they roll.

Locate the horse’s passport.

Arrange transport in case the horse requires surgery.

Inform your insurance company that your horse is being seen by a vet for colic and may require surgery.

St David’s Equine provides the equine veterinary services for Molecare Veterinary Services. Visit www.stdavids-equine.co.uk for more information.

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